HT Interview with Ret. Lt. Colonel

By Osmel Almaguer

Havana street. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, Feb. 17 — Omar Almenabar Castillo, 67, is a retired Lieutenant Colonel of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) and a resident of the Alamar suburb in the City of Havana.

Omar served in the FAR for 50 years.  He holds staunch positions in defense of the revolution, but his ideas have undergone a certain evolution.  He now views the phenomenon of the Cuban revolution with certain objectivity.

Today, Omar earns his living as a plumber, but he does a lot of other things as well, including landscaping.  In Santiago his native province, the majority of men find themselves obligated to learn a little of everything, since the State companies in the trades are very limited there.

Omar has a son named Ernesto who works as a driver for a bakery.  He doesn’t have a very good relationship with his father; in fact they haven’t had contact for several months.  Omar has been married for more than forty years to his wife Isabel, who is a very timid and reserved person.

Omar, what can you tell me about the Cuban revolutionary process?

The Cuban revolution is a unique event in history.  If we study the history of humanity, and in particular of revolutions, we discover that none of the previous revolutions resemble ours, with its great masses of peasants and workers taking power.

Almost all revolutions are in the end a process of rupture with the past.  They begin with a need to topple the previous regime, which refuses to have its power taken away just like that.  That’s why there is generally a lot of blood is spilled in these struggles.

The Cuban revolution has been no exception, but when it reached power its enemies were not arbitrarily assassinated.  They were brought before tribunals in which they were condemned or not, according to their level of blame, like Police chiefs and others who carried the weight of many innocent deaths on their shoulders, much blood and great hunger.

The Cuban Revolution reached 50 last year.

Later certain measures had to be taken that today many people catalogue as erroneous, but which I consider to have been necessary.  Among these we could mention the nationalization of lands and their distribution among the peasants who worked them.  Then there was the State control of industry, the promotion of culture and sports as a right of the people, and other innumerable ones.

We should remember that this was a people who had gone through a period of great effort and hunger.  It was necessary to establish very quickly the differences between the past regime and this one.

For that reason, many fringe benefits and free services were offered: health services and attendance at sporting events, in addition to access to cultural opportunities like the theater, the movies and concerts at a very low price, all events that had formerly been the private preserve of the bourgeoisie.  As far as foreign policy, we could mention all types of international aid: medical, military, educational to countries like Angola, Nicaragua, and Ethiopia.

Many people are familiar with the great advantages of the revolution, but could you enumerate some errors that you recognize?

The socialist system is relatively new, in contrast to capitalism which has some 300 years of development behind it.  Human beings are not perfect, and neither is the revolution.  It is not exempt from human errors, apart from the question of whether socialism is or is not a better system.

I believe that the process of rectification of errors and negative tendencies that took place during the eighties in Cuba was a carbon copy of what was happening in the USSR.  But it was really very necessary that something like that should happen, since in the two initial decades of revolution many errors were committed that have now been recognized by the Cuban state.

Among them I could mention the pretention of converting us into an industrialized country, the repression against intellectuals and homosexuals, the rigidity of the ideas and actions, because during that epoch one couldn’t be inventing things as you could be accused of being a counterrevolutionary.

Fidel is now the government's top advisor.

The crisis of the nineties brought with it many material difficulties, but also a lot of shamelessness and corruption.  Opportunists exist in all systems and we are not exempt from this reality either.  There are people in positions of authority who steal from the people, social climbers, and false revolutionaries.

Fidel issued a call to change everything that should be changed, but that has not been accomplished here.  On the contrary, things are worse.  Many will be held accountable for this at any moment.

Capitalism has existed for many years, but nevertheless has not stopped evolving.  How do you see the evolution of socialism?

I’m not sure I can respond to the question at this time.  Each country has its own way of doing things, depending on its leaders.  For example, in the majority of the countries of Eastern Europe there was a mechanical, copied socialism that was not organic, but was externally imposed.  That’s why they failed. I believe that avoiding such a path can be decisive in the continuation or defeat of revolutions.

And in the case of Cuba, what has been its evolution and what are its perspectives?

Since the discovery of America we’ve been a mixed and transitory country.  Remember that the first inhabitants were massacred by the Spanish.  Then came the slaves that the latter brought, principally from Africa.  They also suffered greatly.  When the first indications of a rising spirit of Cuban nationalism began, those who went forward with the radicalizing of thought and the struggles for Independence were descendants of the Spanish, many with properties and power.

They sacrificed nearly all of it in order to change the prevailing order at that time.  They no longer felt themselves to be Spaniards, but rather pillaged by them and their backwards mode of production.  Later the struggles continued into the twentieth century.  In the middle of the economic crisis, political crises were unleashed.  In other words, we have always been making revolution.

Last Year's May Day Celebration in Havana.

Socialism is another story.  Marti was the precursor; then later  Mella found many points of coincidence between his thought and Marxism.  This served to form the basic ideas of the 1959 revolution.  But the most difficult work is yet to come.  It’s more difficult to maintain a conquest than to conquer in itself.  As I said earlier, we have tripped up many times, but here we are.

As far as the future is concerned, it is up to the new generations to guarantee a long life to the revolution.

The education of our youth is very important, but this doesn’t mean imposing a dogma on them.  We need to teach them to think and to have the courage to criticize when this is most necessary.

If we achieve that, we will be able to last some decades more with the Revolution.

If we should fail — and in the long run no one can guarantee its permanence — the consequences for Cubans and for a good part of the world will not be as happy as the Revolution’s detractors affirm.

4 thoughts on “HT Interview with Ret. Lt. Colonel

  • Unless I missed it, he didn’t advance even one concrete, helpful proposal re meaningful reform. The questions were softballs. You ask pablum, you get pablum.

  • You have to do more than think to end up in jail,criminal acts are needed. Like any country.

  • He says the Revolution needs to teach students to think, and have the courage to criticize when most necesary. And teach the students how to survive years of arbitrary incarceration while you are at it , for those who follow his suggestion of criticizing the Cuban Government.

  • Omar’s story reflects well on himself and the Revolution: both continue to evolve and have not fallen victim to the sort of ideological arterio-sclerosis which characterized previous failed revolutions. As long as the Revolution remains dynamic and flexible it will continue to renew itself. Similarly, it looks like Omar continues to observe, to analyse, and to reassess his environment. Thanks for an interesting feature, Osmel!

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